The All-Star break is over. Games pick back up on Thursday. Less than two months remain.
Welcome to the final stretch of the NBA regular season.
Some teams (Cleveland, New York, Phoenix, etc.) are playing for the lottery and a chance to land Zion Williamson in the draft, while others (both Los Angeles teams, San Antonio, Utah, etc.) are far from guaranteed a spot in the postseason and must fight for their playoff lives.
With roughly 25 games remaining for all 30 teams, USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt, Martin Rogers, AJ Neuharth-Keusch and Matt Eppers rank the league’s best — and worst — teams.
1. Golden State Warriors (41-16) – The least surprising stat ever: The Warriors are 10-1 in games in which DeMarcus Cousins has played since his return from injury.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (43-14) – The Bucks have taken a Giannis Antetokounmpo-sized leap forward this season, and the trade-deadline addition of Nikola Mirotic will only help in the long run. They have the NBA’s best record for a reason.
3. Denver Nuggets (39-18) – Despite the never-ending slew of injuries, the Nuggets remain the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, and they’re essentially a lock to have home-court advantage in the first round come playoff time.
4. Toronto Raptors (43-16) – The Kawhi Leonard gamble has worked out beautifully for the Raptors, who are on pace for the first 60-win season in franchise history. With a top-tier big man in Marc Gasol in the mix, too, this could be the year they finally claim the Eastern Conference crown.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (37-20) – Stellar play from a former MVP and a current MVP candidate has the Thunder looking like a legitimate contender. It’s clear this is a different team from last year, and if Russell Westbrook and Paul George continue to play at this level, the Thunder might very well be the West’s biggest threat to Golden State.
6. Philadelphia 76ers (37-21) – The Sixers have the second-best starting lineup in the NBA (and one of the best in franchise history) following their trade-deadline acquisition of Tobias Harris. There’s firepower to go around, which gives coach Brett Brown plenty of options when it comes to staggering his stars.
7. Boston Celtics (37-21) – Despite all of the turmoil, both off the court and on, the Celtics have won 12 of 15, and they have the fifth-best net rating in the NBA during that span. What’s more, Gordon Hayward is starting to look like his old self again, averaging 14.6 points on 57.1 percent shooting this month.
8. Indiana Pacers (38-20) – The Victor Oladipo injury is devastating in more ways than one, but his absence doesn’t automatically end the Pacers’ season. They won six consecutive games shortly after losing the star guard for the year, and they’re still a game ahead of Boston for third place in the East.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (34-23) – Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter, the Blazers’ newest additions, are both proven veterans who add much-needed depth. The Blazers are a playoff team, but this upcoming seven-game road trip will go a long way in determining if they can lock up home-court advantage in the first round.
10. Houston Rockets (33-24) – The Rockets are just two games ahead of the eighth-place LA Clippers despite James Harden’s continued heroics, but the return of Clint Capela — he’s expected to play on Thursday — might be just what they need to turn things around for the final few weeks.
11. Utah Jazz (32-25) – Last season, the Jazz had the third-best record in the NBA after the All-Star break (18-6). Are they destined for another turnaround? They entered the break as winners of 12 of 16, and Donovan Mitchell is starting to look like a star again.
12. San Antonio Spurs (33-26) – Despite the injuries to key players and DeMar DeRozan’s struggles, here the Spurs are, on track for the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive season.
13. Brooklyn Nets (30-29) – The Nets need the playoffs, and the playoffs need the Nets. Not only are they one of the best success stories in the NBA, they’re actually fun to watch.
14. Sacramento Kings (30-27) – De’Aaron Fox hit the nail on the head with his praise of his squad, telling Sports Illustrated, “If you enjoy basketball, you’ll definitely enjoy the Kings.”
They rank second in the league in pace (much thanks to the lightning-fast Fox), and their rise from basketball’s deepest depths to playoff contention is a story line worth following.
15. Los Angeles Clippers (32-27) – For the Clippers, it’s simple: If they make the playoffs, they lose their 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick to Boston. If they don’t, they keep it. Trading away Harris hurt the team in the short term, but coach Doc Rivers has made it clear that they have every intention of a postseason push.
16. Los Angeles Lakers (28-29) – We all knew LeBron James’ streak of eight consecutive NBA Finals trips was going to end when he packed his bags for Laker Land. But his streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances? No chance, right? Wrong.
James’ Lakers are currently in 10th place in the West, two games behind an inspired Sacramento team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2006 and three games behind a Clippers team that would probably be better off missing the playoffs entirely.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (27-30) – Interim head coach Ryan Saunders, the 32-year-old son of late T’Wolves coaching great Flip Saunders, taking over in January and leading the team to the postseason would be the stuff of legend. But the T’Wolves are four games out of eighth place, and they have a brutal stretch to end the season, with 12 of their final 15 games coming against current playoff teams.
18. Charlotte Hornets (27-30) – It’s more of the same this year for the Hornets, who, outside of Kemba Walker, don’t have enough to make any significant noise whether they make the playoffs or not.
19. Detroit Pistons (26-30) – The Pistons would be the eighth seed if the playoffs started today but could move up as high as sixth by April. They could also miss the playoffs — again — if teams like Miami or Orlando make a run. They have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league, so anything less than a trip to the postseason would be a massive disappointment.
20. Dallas Mavericks (26-31) – With international sensations Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in town and international legend Dirk Nowitzki still around to pass the torch, the future of the franchise is the brightest it’s been in a long time. The rest of this season, though, is all about development.
21. Miami Heat (26-30) – Another season, another year in limbo. The Heat aren’t bad enough to land a top draft pick, and they’re not good enough to be anything higher than a No. 6 seed in the East. Sound familiar?
22. New Orleans Pelicans (26-33) – The Anthony Davis drama has the Pelicans in a tailspin, and there’s no end in sight. The team that swept Portland in the first round of last year’s playoffs is long, long gone.
23. Orlando Magic (27-32) – Stellar play from Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and, lately, Jonathan Isaac puts the Magic in the playoff race for the first time in a long time.
24. Washington Wizards (24-34) – The season is all but over for the Wizards, who came into the year with high expectations and have since parted ways with three key players and watched their franchise cornerstone, John Wall, suffer a devastating injury that’ll keep him out for 12 months, at least. The future isn’t bright, and the present doesn’t look much better.
25. Atlanta Hawks (19-39) – The Rookie of the Year award is more than likely headed to Dallas, but don’t discount what Trae Young has done this season. He’s on pace to become just the eighth rookie in NBA history to average 16 points and seven assists in a season — a list that includes Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson and Chris Paul.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (23-36) – Mike Conley is the lone member remaining from the Grit-and-Grind era, and it’s clear as ever that the Grizzlies are headed in a new direction. That direction is down, for now, but they have a potential star in Jaren Jackson Jr. to build around.
27. Chicago Bulls (14-44) – Only three players in the NBA are averaging at least 25 points and 12 rebounds in February. Lauri Markkanen is one of them. The second-year forward is looking like a true star in the making, and if Otto Porter Jr. can continue to be the player he’s been since being traded to Chicago (he’s averaging 22.5 points on 62.1 percent shooting in four games), the Bulls’ frontcourt will be the least of their problems.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-46) – The Lakers might have LeBron, but the Cavs have … attendance? The Cavs, according to ESPN’s figures, rank eighth in the league in average home attendance — one spot ahead of the Lakers.
29. Phoenix Suns (11-48) – Can you believe that this team is on track to post the worst record in Suns’ history? You can? Yeah. Same.
30. New York Knicks (11-47) – As bad as the Knicks have been for the past few years, this is an all-time low. They’ve won two games in 2019, and they have the worst winning percentage in franchise history. Oh, and they traded away a franchise cornerstone in hopes of making a splash in free agency this summer. Fingers crossed …
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ AJ Neuharth-Keusch on Twitter @tweetAJNK